London – Bogota
Fly from London Heathrow late in the evening and arrive in Bogotá early the following morning, to be met and taken to your hotel. You’ll be in a great place to explore the lively shops, restaurants and historic centre of Bogotá, and the next day you’ll go on a tour through ancient La Candelaria, soaking up the atmosphere of its old Spanish casonas with their wrought iron window grilles, balconies, courtyards and beautiful gardens.
You can stroll around Plaza Bolívar featuring the famous statue of Simón Bolívar and the cathedral – worth going inside to view over four centuries’ worth of liturgical and ornamental objects. Next comes the Capilla del Sagrario and Museo Botero, offering masterpieces by Picasso, Renoir, Dalí, Matisse, Monet and Giacometti. The Museo de Oro is another stop on your tour, featuring nearly 34,000 gold and 20,000 artefacts in stone, ceramic and precious stones from the Quimbaya, Calima, Tairona, Sinu, Muisca, Tolima, Tumaco and Magdalena cultures.
Stay: Two nights in a double room at Movich Chico 97 – bed & breakfast
Villa de Leyva
Now you head north across the central savannah and Colombia’s dazzling flower plantations. You’ll stop off to marvel at a phenomenal piece of engineering – a cathedral built entirely from salt from nearby mines – before arriving at beautiful Villa de Leyva. Here you’ll be staying in a carefully converted home originally built in the 16th century and fabulously located within the historic centre of this untouched colonial town.
Your half day tour will take you to cultural attractions such as the Colonial Art Museum, the Monastery and Convent del Carmen and the Museum of Maestro Acuna. You’ll also be shown around the archaeological centre at El Infiernito, home to around 30 stone columns dating back to the pre-Hispanic era, as well as the Fossil Museum where a 120 million-year-old kronosaurus fossil was discovered. The nearby Convento del Sante Ecce Homo, founded by the Dominicans in 1620, concludes your tour.
Stay: Two nights in a double room at Casa Terra – bed & breakfast
More colonial treasures await in Barichara, a five-hour trip away. Declared a National Architectural Monument, the local houses are white highlighted in pastel shades, and feature cloisters, internal gardens, quaint tiled roofs and intricate stone masonry. You’ll be staying in an antique restored house within easy reach of the historic cathedral, Plaza Principal and the Alcaldia, an imposing colonial edifice housing the monument to Hormiga Culona. At the other end of the town you’ll find Capilla de Santa Barbara, featuring a huge ceiba tree considered sacred by the indigenous Guane people. In the Casa de Arte de Oficios local artists display their work.
Your tour continues to the exquisitely preserved colonial village of Guane along the old Camino Real – an ancient pathway paved by the pre-Columbian Guane people. The journey is rich in picturesque landscapes, valleys, fossils and the heritage of a past culture. The following day you’ll hike to the waterfalls of Juan Curi, where you will have an opportunity to go swimming, whilst the day after that will see you rafting on the Fonce River.
Stay: Three nights in a double room at La Nube – bed & breakfast
Cartagena conjures up notions of pirates, Spanish gold and fortified city walls with cannons facing out to sea. It’s a largely accurate picture; today Cartagena is a treasure house of civil, religious, military and governmental buildings dating back to the colonial period. The city deserves its place on the UNESCO World Heritage List and you’ll tour spectacular places like Monasterio and Iglesia de La Popa with its stunning 360º views over the city, ocean and port.
The San Felipe Fortress gives you the chance to gain an insight into the castle’s engineering, tunnels, underground galleries and passageways. Wandering around the Ciudad Vieja brings you to the Convent and Church of San Pedro Claver and the Bovedas. This quaint parade of archways is built into Cartagena’s city walls. Once an armoury and a prison, today it’s a centre for artists and artisans displaying local handcrafts.
Stay: Three nights in a superior junior suite at Ananda Boutique Hotel.
On day eight you’ll bid goodbye to Bariacha and begin the journey to Bucaramanga, stopping along the way at Chicamocha National Park. Home of the impressive Chiamocha Canyon, the park is known for its hiking opportunities with trails leading to various natural attractions. It also boasts one of the longest cable car rides in the world which runs for 6.3km through the canyon.
You then continue to Bucaramanga, the capital of the Santander region. You’ll be staying in a polished hotel located in the city’s exclusive shopping and business district. The ideal base for a variety of excursions in the area, including visits to the parks of San Pio, Las Palmas, Solon and Triangular.
Stay: One night in a double room at the Dann Carlton – bed & breakfast
Flying back to Bogotá, you’ll catch a flight to San Andrés and then another to Providencia where the theme is sea, sun, sand and ultimate relaxation. The island feels like time stood still somewhere in the 1950s, and is the perfect place for beach lazing, water sports, scuba diving and snorkelling. A colourful wooden bridge links you to Santa Catalina, another island sharing Providencia’s listing as a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, due to its breath-taking coral reef – the third largest in the world.
With its tranquil beaches and calm waters, you’d never guess that the islands were once home to the infamous Captain Morgan who used the islands as a base from which to attack Spanish treasure ships.
Stay: Three nights in a deluxe ocean view room at Deep Blue – bed & breakfast
A private transfer to the airport will see you board a flight back to San Andrés. From there you will catch a flight to Bogotá, then another back to London.
Rob was always quick, efficient, charming and helpful- CH, Burma, 2013